Asian stock markets traded mostly higher on Friday

Asian stock markets traded mostly higher on Friday ahead of key data out of the U.S. that is expected to show the American economy has stopped shedding jobs.

Japan’s Nikkei Average [JP;N225  10755.11  73.4502  (+0.69%)   ] hit its highest in 15 months, with exporters such as Honda Motor buoyed by a weaker yen, while chip-related stocks climbed on growing global demand for high-tech products.

Shares of Japan Airlines lost 10.5 percent on mounting worries about bankruptcy.

Japan’s new finance minister, Naoto Kan, said he expected a state-backed fund to support the carrier. His comments will add fuel to speculation the fund will make a decision soon to support
JAL, providing capital and loans in return for its filing for a bankruptcy proceeding similar to Chapter 11 in the U.S. and debt forgiveness from its banks.

In active trade, the Nikkei rose 0.7 percent to 10,753.24, after climbing as high as 10,816.45, its  highest since October 2008. The broader Topix gained 0.6 percent to 937.34.

Elpida Memory rose 1.7 percent to 1,703 yen after the Nikkei business daily said Elpida is expected to enjoy its first operating profit in three years, part of a rapid earnings recovery at chipmakers due to growing global demand for high-tech products.

Shares of Ulvac fell 4 percent to 2,255 yen after the chip and flat panel production equipment maker said it would raise up to 15.5 billion yen ($166 million) in a public offering, increasing the number of shares outstanding by about 15 percent.

Fujifilm rose 3.5 percent to 2,967 yen following a brokerage upgrade. Goldman Sachs cited higher estimates and the imminent end of major restructuring costs that have weighed on earnings.

Japan’s second-largest retailer Aeon jumped 6.4 percent to 868 yen after it said its third-quarter operating profit rose nearly three-fold as aggressive cost-cutting efforts more than made up for a sharp slide in sales.

Seoul shares declined, weighed by losses from auto and tech exporters. The market’s reaction
to the central bank’s decision to leave rates on hold was muted.

South Korea’s central bank on Friday kept its key interest rate unchanged at record-low 2.0 percent for an 11th month amid a growing conflict with a government opposed to early monetary tightening.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) declined 0.14 percent at 1,681.4 points by mid-day.

Banks rose following recent losses. Shinhan Financial gained 1.83 percent and
Woori Finance advanced 1.01 percent.

Key auto and technology issues declined, with LG Electronics, the world’s No.3 handset maker, down 3.48 percent. Hyundai Motor, the country’s top automaker, retreated 3.3 percent.

Shares in Dongkuk Steel tumbled 4.89 percent after local media reports the steelmaker was interested in purchasing a stake in Daewoo Engineering & Construction, which a Dongkuk
Steel official confirmed.

Creditors led by state-owned Korea Development Bank will take over a majority of Daewoo Engineering from its parent Kumho Asiana Group, under a debt restructuring programme for Kumho which was announced last week. KDB is looking for a strategic investor which will participate in their joint acquisition of the builder.

Australian stocks rose 0.6 percent as financial stocks rose, offsetting falls in resources shares after worries about Chinese demand hit metals prices.

Banks bounced back after Thursday’s fall, gaining at the expense of resources stocks, after commodity prices retreated on a firmer U.S. dollar, caution ahead of Friday’s U.S. payrolls
data and worries that monetary tightening in China could slow demand.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index [AU;XJO  4912.1  12.698  (+0.26%)   ] rose 30.5 points to 4,929.9.

Among resources stocks, iron ore miner Fortescue Metals fell 1.6 percent to A$5.09, gold miner Newcrest Mining lost 1.3 percent to A$36.68 and energy firm Santos fell 0.7 percent to A$14.34.

Australia & New Zealand Banking Group rose 1.2 percent to A$22.39, Westpac was up 1.5 percent at A$25.43, Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 1.3 percent to A$56.18 and National Australia Bank was up 0.2 percent at A$27.04.

Shares in New Zealand-based jeweller Michael Hill International gained 6.1 percent to NZ$0.70 after the company said trading during the key christmas period had been good.

Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index edged up 0.3 percent at 22,344.8 points in morning trade.

Shares of Hutchison Telecom surged 29 percent when they resumed trade after being suspended on Monday. Parent Hutchison Whampoa said it would pay HK$2.20 per share to its telecommunications unit to take the company private.

China Overseas Land climbed 1.08 percent. The top developer in China said total property sales for 2009 rose 80 percent from a year earlier, further evidence of the country’s booming
real estate market.

Henderson Land was up 1.2 percent on news the company and New World Development had agreed to pay the HK$2.5 billion land premium for converting an agricultural site in Yuen
Long for residential use. New World was down 0.13 percent.

Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing extended gains, up 1.2 percent on expectations the volume of trade on the city’s bourse would rise this year, with a string of IPOs planned in coming months.

Gold counters Realgold Mining fell 2.08 percent and Zijin Mining shed 1.85 percent after the prices of oil and gold eased on a stronger U.S. dollar.

Aluminum Corp of China (Chalco) also decline as investors took profit following a recent rally.  China’s biggest aluminium firm had not had any notification that cold weather might cause potential power stoppages, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

China shares remained weak on policy worries, led by a continued selloff in metal stocks after Shanghai base metal futures fell sharply.

The Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.9% at 3,165.34, adding to yesterday’s 1.9 percent decline.

Investors were cautious after China’s central bank unexpectedly hiked rates at a three-month bill auction on Thursday. Traders said this could signal the start of monetary tightening.

Singapore stocks inched higher following the Dow’s climb to new 15-month highs, but gains were limited by tonight’s closely-watched U.S. December jobs report.

The Straits Times Index advanced 0.2 percent at 2918.11. Wilmar International was top percentage gainer among blue chips, rising 2.2 percent at S$6.91, following upgrade in target price by Goldman Sachs.

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